2009 Review: The Best Kung Fu Movies

Jeeja Yanin, Raging Phoenix

Raging Phoenix

[Yesasia] [IMDB]
I would love to cite Raging Phoenix as the first awesome martial arts film with a female lead. I would love to do that. But its choreographers and writers conspire against me.

Raging Phoenix is the story of a young female rocker (played by Jeeja Yanin) who gets caught up in a ruthless kidnapping ring. Women are abducted off the streets of Thailand, drugged, and taken to a secret laboratory hidden within a Temple of Doom, which is in turn hidden within a metropolitan sewage system. Naturally, the women’s tears are harvested there, to concoct a patent medicine for eccentric billionaires.

Only one force is strong enough to thwart the kidnapper’s plans: a small group of drunken vigilantes who learned to combine Muay Thai boxing with stylish hip-hop dance moves.

Enough about the storyline, let’s talk about the action. The fight scenes in Raging Phoenix are elaborate and unique. Most are not really “fight” scenes at all, so much as opportunities to showcase a carefully planned set of breakdance-kicks against a stationary opponent. This, and not the ridiculous plot, is the movie’s unforgivable flaw: it becomes a mere sequence of tricks set to bad Thai rap music, and we’ve seen better tricks elsewhere.
My Rating: B-

Jeeja Yanin Vismistananda and friends, in Raging Phoenix


[Amazon] [IMDB] [Netflix]
Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a washed-up, bankrupt and luckless action star, who would do almost anything to avoid making another straight-to-DVD B-movie. Is he desperate enough to commit armed robbery?

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “That’s not an act!” But actually, JCVD shows the long-overlooked dramatic talents of a skilled thespian. No kidding.
My Rating: A-

Shaolin Temple entrance

The Real Shaolin

[Order] [IMDB]
In this revealing documentary, Alexander Sebastien Lee follows four trainees at the modern Shaolin Temple. Orion and Eric are two foreigners who hope to become warrior monks; Zhu and Yuan Peng are the children of poor farmers and laborers, who hope to escape poverty through martial arts stardom. Misled by popular films–and indeed by previous hagiographic “Shaolin documentaries”–none finds quite what they expected.

Traditional Shaolin Kung Fu training is perhaps rarer today than ever before, having been supplanted by theatrical Wushu and sporting Sanda. Trainers resent the lazy and clumsy tourists, few of whom can endure the austere training. Visiting laowai in turn resent the teachers, who expect them to follow the Chinese kids’ gymnastics curriculum for years, until they are deemed ready and worthy for the inner-gate secrets of the Temple.

Although Monk De Yang explains that the purpose of Chinese Kung Fu is to improve health, most of the thousands of students in and around Shaolin train in the dirt, sleep in the cold, and take little rest after their frequent injuries. In the end, the trainees are disillusioned, having experienced more bitterness then glory.
My Rating: B+and required viewing for all would-be martial arts pilgrims


Champions (Duo Biao)

[Amazon] [IMDB]
This heartwarming story of the first Olympic Wushu demonstrations will surely arouse your patriotic spirit–if you are Chinese. If not, you can still enjoy Dicky Cheung’s humor, and the semi-authentic presentations of traditional Chinese styles: Taiji Fists, Eagle Claw Kung Fu and Mantis Boxing.
My Rating: B


Yip Man

[Amazon] [IMDB]
Donnie Yen stars in this creative retelling of a real Wing Chun Kung Fu master’s life in WWII China. Nominated for best action direction, and winner of Hong Kong’s Best Film award, its critical and commercial success has already guaranteed at least one sequel.
My Rating: A-

Samurai Princess

And many more…
There were so many kung fu movies released to theaters and DVD this year, I couldn’t possibly review them all. Here is my mostly complete list:

Against The Dark (Steven Seagal)
Blood and Bone (Michael Jai White)
The Boxer
Chocolate (Jeeja Yanin, US version)
Chandni Chowk to China
Confessions of an Action Star
Dance of the Dragon
Death Warrior
Dragonball Evolution (Chow Yun-Fat)
Driven to Kill (Steven Seagal)
Fight Night
Geisha Assassin
Geisha vs. Ninjas
I Was a Teenage Ninja
Kungfu Cyborg (Wu Jing) (C-)
Legendary Assassin (Wu Jing) (B-)
Love and Honor (B-)
Onechanbara: Samurai Bikini Squad
Ong Bak 2 (Tony Jaa)
Mask of the Ninja
Never Back Down
Never Surrender
Ninja She-Devil
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li
Twin Daggers
Wandering Ginza Butterfly
Wushu: The Young Generation
Red Cliff (Tony Leung, US version) (B+)
The Samurai Princess
The White Crane Chronicles, a.k.a. Kung Fu Killer (David Carradine)

Kungfu Cyborg
Kungfu Cyborg

Which of these movies was your favorite? Least favorite? Which releases are you eagerly awaiting for 2010? Personally, I think the best martial arts movie of next year might well turn out to be a dance movie…

The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers


  1. Don’t forget Ninja Assassin! I was disappointed in it. To much CGI blood and gore and not enough authentic martial arts.


  2. there are some classics here. not seen ong bak yet but i will see it soon. ive been training in wing chun for over 5 years so i love martial art films. one of my favourites is kiss of the dragin and romeo must die. i know there scenes are not all that believable but the figh scenes are still very good to watch.

    ave u seen the destiny of wing chun? its a classic wing chun movie that ive never seen, and in fact i dont even know if its available here in the uk, i will have to find out. thats a def classic, i didnt see it above anyway!

    nice site though and a cool post

    be back again soon


  3. This is always my favorite article of the year. I always need new material! 😀

    Blood and Bone, Chun Li, and Dragon Ball were all very terrible. Chocolate and Ong Bak 2, while terrible films, were quite fun as movies go. Fighting was a surprise hit, I really enjoyed it as both a film and an action movie. I’ll have to look over the rest.

  4. “Destiny of Wing Chun”? Never heard of it. Do you mean “Descendant of Wing Chun”?

  5. the legion of extraordinary dancers? LOL I watched both clips though, they were a amazing.

    I just finished watching Raging Phoenix…you are spot on in your review.The plot is horribly ridiculous ( and trust me, I’m quite lenient when it comes to martial arts film plots!) and too spread out/sparse.
    However, the fight scenes are so wonderful that when they do occur, it makes it worth watching., IMHO.

    Anyway, I love the blog, keep up the good work!

  6. true legend is a great martial arts movie…wish i can find one with english subs though

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